We spend a significant portion of our lives learning about major wars throughout history or even living through them, but often the most severe conflicts occur within. These are the battles that can’t end with the wave of a white flag or some other type of agreement. They live with us, haunt us, and make us wonder if we can move forward; if life is worth the living. The type of strife you can’t smoke away, a recurring theme in the latest offering from Ashlee White, Z A V, and Geesus Shuttlesworth.
Though they are all facing separate issues, the common thread they share is pain. Pain brings us together, for better or worse. The world understandably discourages trauma bonding, but their relatable narratives can make any listener feel tied to one or all of them. That is because the “Battle” visual, directly by Vibes By June takes us through each of their stories, but also incorporates the multiple century-spanning Black struggles in the U.S.A. This means that even though their problems are individually different, their stories still and always will intertwine.
Ashlee White kicks off with “Battling myself, dark room / Distracting myself with some cartoons till my eyes low / Wonder where the time goes?” Escapism helps temporarily, but eventually, the timeouts end and you’ve got to get back in the ring. It’s called a “smoke break” after all. White’s face throughout her verse conveys despair and unwillingness to go another round, to get back to what she must.
Life’s jabs and hooks are persistent, and her resolve is waning, so she simply sits on the ground in the dark while the television illuminates her space. We never run away from the things we know we can beat, and here Ashlee White accepts defeat. Eventually, there can be peace in this, but her empty stare displays someone who is a long way from that feeling.
Z A V harmonizes the “Please don’t leave me lonely” line with her to close off the verse before beginning his own tale. He sings “I don’t wanna smoke no more, cause I don’t wanna go no more” before soothing vocals turn into a deeper, dejected tone of rap. He steps out of a dark shadow before becoming the only light in the frame. Though he brings a ray to his surrounding area, his words tell otherwise. Sporting a black mask with the words “Stop Killing Us” written in gold, he goes on to say “See I been fighting with myself / So I can’t get hurt by anyone else / I been battling the truth, it’s so many lies / Knowing that they only just keeping me blind.” Ashlee chooses detachment, and Z A V opts to be knowingly in denial. Quite the paradox.
He joins the last of the trio, Shuttlesworth, for a night drive. The video quickly cuts to a scene of the two sitting handcuffed on a sidewalk with sirens flashing in the background, before making another sharp transition to being arrested and forced against a car. All the while, Geesus states “They will never know, bruh” on top of a looped, fast-beating heart. We then see the entire ordeal being rewound from the arrest, to when they were stopped by the police, all the way to an argument between Shuttlesworth and White.
The reversal allows the pieces to come together. Gee met up with his fellow long-haired mate to get away from whatever caused tension between him and Ashlee. He opens his verse sitting alone in his car as a weed cough (you know the type) precedes his exclamation “Don’t even talk to me until I had my meds.” There, he divulges his mother’s desire for him to start a family and his father’s worsening health. A fun flip of the words “sun” and “son” pays homage to New Yorkers in “Lately my days been type cloudy / New York niggas call me sun, ain’t no shine around me / The forecast keeps getting more trash.”
The most powerful line ends the confessional with him displaying his own empty gaze right at the viewers. “Hoping God gon’ handle it, cause I hate my job, I’m lonely, my dad is dying slowly and I’m a whore for companionship.” So Ashlee escapes, Z A V deludes himself, and Geesus accepts his reality but puts it all in The Lord’s hands. It can feel like the only option when witnessing the ways of the world but also constantly fighting something within. Trying to convince the world that Black Lives Matter but also needing to constantly remind yourself that you matter.
The dualistic purpose of the visual comes full circle when it finishes with each artist showing a different message on their masks: “I Can’t Breathe,” “Black Lives Matter,” and “Stop Killing Us.” Our very last image is a Black police officer because unfortunately sometimes it is our own people killing us, but taking one of your own is like losing a piece of yourself. Battles aren’t linear. This video is for those enduring pain on different planes.